Biologically male transgender rower was in Cambridge female crew

Biologically male transgender rower was in Cambridge University female reserve crew at 2015 Henley Regatta Boat Race – when women were first given equal billing to men

  • Trans woman Sarah Gibson took the position on the team back in the 2015 race
  • Organisers did not show education background as rower attended boys school 

A member of the 2015 Cambridge University women’s reserve crew was biologically male, it emerged today.

Trans woman Sarah Gibson took the position on the team in the same year females were given equal billing to men.

Organisers were aware of the rower’s background and decided not to display the schools the team had attended because Gibson’s had been one for boys, The Telegraph reports. 

It was the year women finally given the opportunity to race on the same stretch of the Thames as the men.

Details of the team set-up emerged today but were actually first disclosed in LGBT campaign group Stonewall in 2018.

Trans woman Sarah Gibson, circled, took the position on the team in the same year females were given equal billing to men 

Sarah Gibson of Cambridge University Women’s crew rows during an erg session at the Goldie Boathouse on March 12, 2015

In the document Gibson – now understood to identify as non-binary – is billed as ‘the first openly trans person to compete’ in the race’s ‘187-year history’.

The athlete told Stonewall: ‘I wanted to take part in the Boat Race since I was a small kid and I was delighted when I got the chance.

‘The club and coaches were very supportive. I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy it or reach my full potential without such an inclusive environment.’

The news looks set to spark fresh debate in the ongoing controversy over whether biological males who identify as women should compete in female sporting events.

In March World Athletics’ decided to exclude transgender athletes from women’s category events.

Rules announced by Sebastian Coe, the governing body’s president, say transgender women will be banned from competing in the female category at international athletics events in order to ‘prioritise fairness and the integrity of the female competition before inclusion’.

Umpires at women’s rowing regattas are now unable to question the gender of junior competitors, it was claimed yesterday, prompting fears girls could lose races to male-born transgender rowers (file photo of Henley Regatta last June)

The rules affect all rowing events in Britain, including next month’s prestigious Henley Women’s Regatta (file photo of rowers in the River Thames in Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire)

 It also comes as it was revealed that umpires at women’s rowing regattas are unable to question the gender of junior competitors.

An adviser from the sport’s governing body briefed officials that they should not query the gender of any junior rowers, and that it should not form part of their assessment of fairness.

The rules affect all rowing events in Britain, including next month’s prestigious Henley Women’s Regatta.

A source familiar with Gibson’s rowing race said Cambridge had been uncertain how to tackle the issue.

They told the Telegraph: ‘Gibson already knew how to row, having learned to row at an elite boy’s school.

‘The university thought they had to accept people exactly as they declared themselves to be.

‘Gibson only had to say: “I’m a woman, I’m eligible for this crew”. here was no mechanism for proving testosterone levels. Cambridge thought they had to be inclusive, and so they just accepted Gibson at face value.

‘Everyone knew Gibson was biologically male. But they thought they weren’t allowed to ask personal questions about testosterone levels, or being legally female, or surgery. They believed that was far too personal and intimate. Nobody thought that they could challenge.’

Jane Sullivan, a recently-retired rowing coach, told The Telegraph’s Planet Normal podcast, being part of the team provided certain accolades.

She said: ‘When you’re in Blondie or one of the top boats, you’re part of an exclusive club. You’re allowed to get your Blondie blazer.

‘It gives you access to this club of Blues and Half-Blues, and that stays with you for life.

‘The woman who missed out in 2015 will never have her place in history. She won’t be part of that club. And I think that’s a shame. I feel for her.’

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